Bangladesh, a victim of climate change, is now relying on floating boats for rural healthcare.
The ‘chars’ or islands of Bangladesh have been victims of climate change. They are constantly changing their shape and form due to eroding. This process has unfortunately quickened by extreme rainfall that is a result of climate change.
This erosion has created multiple hindrances to daily life, but the biggest disadvantage is not being able to build permanent structures, especially hospitals. To address this issue, Bangladesh now has floating hospital ships that are run by non-government organisations. They are equipped with medical facilities and doctors and provide free medical treatment to the people in the ‘chars’.
It has helped several people living in those areas. Abdul Jalil lived on a secluded island, several hours from the nearest hospital. He had cataract but no means of curing it. Thanks to the floating hospitals, Jalil had a free cataract surgery last month. “I can’t wait for my eye bandage to come off,” said Jalil. “It’s been so long since I last saw my son properly. I think I have forgotten how he looks.”
If not for the ship, the residents of the island would have to travel for a day to access the nearest healthcare centre. Or else, spend a lot of money to arrange for a doctor’s visit. Due to this, people wait till their health deteriorates badly before seeking help, which can be dangerous.
The NGO, Friendship, currently runs two floating hospitals and are in the process of building five more, reported the Indian Express. These would all be handed over to the Bangladesh government in five years time. This is aimed at increasing healthcare reach to the remotest parts of the country.
“This is a viable strategy to get to people who are hard to reach and have no access to medical services,” said Nawsher Ahmed Sikder, a civil servant from the Ministry of Finance.
Bangladesh has always been vulnerable to climate change as it is a low-lying area and the ‘chars’ face the brunt of the adverse impacts. In total, about 10 million people live on chars in Bangladesh, said the National Char Alliance.
“It’s a matter of life and death. A farmer invests all his money in a land so that he can get crops. Climate change takes that away from him. Everything he has saved goes away in a second,” said Runa Khan, who founded the NGO, Friendship in 2002.
“We realised that you cannot have a healthcare system which is the same in the cities and these unreachable areas. You have to change the system with the available resources and socio-economic capability of the people,” said Khan.
This healthcare system has been lauded by climate change experts as well as the Bangladesh government. “The concept and practice of providing health facilities to remote communities through a hospital ship was a welcome development,” said climate scientist Saleemul Huq, who also praised the plan for the government to take over the project.
Today, the floating hospitals are equipped to provide healthcare services such as basic check-ups to complicated surgeries and healing or burn wounds. They are also well-equipped to test of cervical cancer. To provide the best facilities to its citizens, the NGO gets medical teams from Europe as well as from big Bangladeshi hospitals to perform surgeries.
Another problem that the NGO faces is convincing the inhabitants of the ‘chars’ to seek medical help. Old men are sidelined due to having cataract, small children isolated for having fractures or burns. Educating them that simple procedures can solve these problems is a real task.
Shariful, an 80year-old boy fell from a tree and fractured his hand. His father refused to send him to a doctor fearing that they will amputate his arm. But today, his father is a convert. “I am glad I came here,” he said of the ship. “I realised that whatever the doctors were saying made sense. My son had the surgery and thankfully, he is a lot better today.”